Classical Music and Mindfulness

I asked for a violin at age 3. By 5, I could identify different recordings of The Marriage of Figaro (my brother and I each had our own favorite). My grandfather played violin in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, my mother is a cellist, and some of my most cherished memories are of putting on small recitals with them when we all got together. During one of these performances, I made special note to the room of adults not to clap between movements. Even at that young age, I had enthusiastically soaked up on concert etiquette, and I felt it important enough to enforce.

Not just hobby, music is a major force in my life and has profoundly shaped my brain and character. As many families follow a religion, ours was music. The traditions of music from both sides of the stage are integral to who I am and the people and values I identify with. Call me a snob, but I don’t go to your place of worship and disrespect your customs.

applause1

 

There are some incredible moments that transcend this rule. Music is supposed to be emotional and exceptional talent should be recognized. Most musicians and maestros have a problem with applause out of false obligation. I’m not saying you need to be an expert in classical music, but I charge everyone to understand a few points that I think play into some greater issues that I find with the contemporary human condition.

Silence is important.

It’s becoming increasingly rare. Even as I sit here writing in my apartment building’s lounge alone, there is ambient background music. Text messages come in and my attention is diverted. Yes, I consider electronic messages to be a form of noise. There’s something physically uncomfortable about silence. If you’ve ever experienced a Joseph Beuys felt space or sculpture, you know what I’m talking about.

Silence is also difficult to tolerate emotionally. There is a strong pull to fill the space, especially when just moments before it was so full. This is the entryway to my issue with not only applause between movements, but what it represents. I see the silence as a container for the noise. Think about it from another angle. In writing, the form — including the white space — dictates so much of the meaning. I feel this way about music as well.

Also, the silence is an important place to reflect. Music can be an intense and multi-dimensional experience. It’s essential in order to process the emotions and form opinions. All too often, this part gets overlooked. This leads into my next topic.

Not everything is awesome. 

The thing about the silence is that you get to decide what you thought about the music you just heard and recharge for the music that you’re about to hear. Love it, hate it, or completely unsure about it, taking the moment to think and reflect will probably create a deeper and more lasting connection with the experience that will enhance your understanding of yourself, your tastes, and your future experiences. If you jump to applaud because you think you have to, you lose out on this process.

Music isn’t all cerebral. It’s also built to be visceral. If you’re not already clapping at the wrong time without caring whether or not anyone else is because you’re so moved, maybe it’s because it didn’t deserve it. Sit on that for a while. That doesn’t make it bad. There are those surprises that blow you away. There are those moments of climax where you can’t help but burst into applause. It’s also ok if it’s not one of those moments.

Be present.

Yes, it’s pretty cool that you went to a concert. Go ahead and post it on your social media. After that, turn off your phone (!!!!!!!!!!!) and settle into the present moment. I recently went to a concert where a number of phones rang audibly during the first half of the performance. A member of the audience got up during the break and reminded everyone to turn off their phones. That deserved and received a rowdy applause.

Another concert I recently went to included run times for each movement in the program. I prickled at this. Something I love about music is really getting lost in it, devoting my whole self for that span of time. How present are you in the moment when you’re fixating on the end? I consider being present during the noise is as important as reflection is during the silence.

Is it sometimes difficult to dig in and commit to the moment, but you’re already there. You carved out the time, now give it the space. This is a practice that drastically enhances the experience and has been proven to make you happier.


 

Oh, one more word of advice (I’m also a photographer): using flash photography is not only rude to the rest of the audience and disruptive to performers, it’s pointless for you. The flash on your point and shoot or even the one on your DSLR isn’t meant for long range (like, not more than a few feet in front of you). Your image isn’t enhanced and you’re just running down your own battery.

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On Being a “Writer” (part 10: Working With Emotion, Happiness)

A few weeks ago, I tore through a post with hate on my heels. Now, I am experiencing a seemingly opposite emotion, but there is a similar lesson. “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around for a while, you could miss it,” Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Ok, cliché, but it rings true. What’s funny is that, from the last post on Emotion (the Anger Chapter), I knew how to fail forward. I broke through my clouds of frustration and tasted the blissful sunlight of success. This was not an easy thing for me to do, but I have thoroughly planned ahead for these moments–the times when I’m feeling a typically negative emotion and how to work through that to remain effective.

What I don’t have as much experience with is planning for similar issues, but opposite emotions. When things are good, we usually don’t feel like we need to reach into the personal work tool belt. I picked the Ferris Bueller quote for a few reasons: (1) It’s true: life can change in an instant. Mere days ago, I was very angry, and today I am “completely, and perfectly, and incandescently happy” (please pardon the schmaltz); and (2) I actually took the day off yesterday to “stop and look around,” which wasn’t a seriously bad thing that caused dire consequence (it might have actually been good for me because I’m a workaholic and need to slow it down every once in a while), but the point is that I didn’t work and I consider that a failure of sorts.

I consider the fact that I didn’t work a failure because I didn’t try to regulate my emotion to remain effective. I got a case of the “fuck its,” and spent a lovely afternoon catching up with a close friend and girlavanting downtown. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this. I did not have a looming deadline nor did I lose any money, respect, or real time. I had weighed the tangible costs of forgoing a workday and determined them minimal.

As I’ve discussed, it’s not necessarily about the individual decision, but also about the practice and discipline. I could have tried to push through, but it was tough for me to even name the action as “perseverance” because I don’t usually associate something as being difficult if it feels so darn good. So, today, I’m trying to use this as an opportunity to pump the brain iron and build this mental muscle. Instead of running around tending to the garden that is my Instagram account, I’m going to work as if I were angry, and smile because I most certainly am not.

On Being a “Writer” (part 7: Meditation, Routine, and Discipline)

Meditation brings meaning and balance to my whole life, not only the creative side. Especially living in NYC, I am constantly striving to find grounding activities and rooted routines. As I had touched on previously in my review of Fifty Shades of Grey, limits can actually be liberating. It took me quite a while to come to this realization as applied to my own life, and meditation was one of the major elements that led me to this sweet water.

Meditation does not necessarily have to mean what you think it does. Yes, I’ve sat cross-legged and barefooted with my eyes closed in a dimly lit room with a gong and some candles and sage burning. That can be a very tangible and grounding practice. However, if you’re the kind of person who holds that scene in disdain, don’t worry, there’s a practice for you, too! (I do suggest that if you are this kind of person, give it a try. I don’t say this in a preachy way, but first, you can’t knock it until you’ve tried it, and second, I encourage for your creative soul that you do something new…especially if it scares you. I’ll surely expound this in another post).

Some synonyms of meditation, when Googled, mean much more than the above description. This list includes: contemplation, thought, musing, pondering, consideration, reflection, deliberation, concentration, etc. If you intend to and let them, small things in your life can become meditations. My morning routine, as an example, has become a form of meditation for me. I wake up nearly every morning at the same time. I stand in the same spot and recite the same prayer and then set my intentions for the day. I then get my coffee at the same place (they actually get worried for me if I have a morning breakfast meeting, for instance, and don’t make it in).

This translates to writing very well. Annie Dillard writes in The Writing Life (another must read for writers), “a schedule defends from chaos and whim. A net for catching days.” Most writers, if they have anything to say about it, will tell you that you have to commit to making an appointment with yourself to write. Again, be kind to yourself. Structure does not have to mean stringency. If you miss one of your writing sessions, don’t beat yourself up. Just wise up and ask, really ask, why. Then, you’ll know for next time.

There’s a lot of work that gets done before I even sit down to my computer. I have to hold myself accountable to my appointments and, rain or shine, get up and do it all over again the next day. If you’re thinking this sounds like an iteration of the movie Groundhog Day, you’re not really wrong. If you had asked me when I was 25, having just moved here, I would have told you this sounds like my personal hell; but that girl had no idea what discipline meant.

See, the more work I can do to discipline myself with the small things, the more I actually train myself to appreciate and live in the moment and tolerate change. I can, most times, modify my feelings and actions when the big things don’t go exactly as planned. Thus, the Groundhog Day reference is pretty right. If I start every day the same way, I can only hope to improve on the model. If I wake up to a completely new set of strides each day, how can I measure progress if there isn’t a level plane?

Also, in this #startuplife, every day is essentially different. I love it, and on a good day I am excited, high-energy, and engaged; but the dark side of the moon is that this scattered schedule is also sometimes destabilizing and destructive. When I was consulting in a more corporate environment, routine was built into almost every moment down to what I ate for lunch on any given weekday. There was some benefit to that. I really don’t like to waste time. One of my goals is to really know what I want and go do or get it. Not because I’m spoiled, not because I’m stringent, but because I don’t like to waste thought and energy on mostly meaningless things.

This is starting to make me sound like a robot. I’m not. If you know me, you know that I love spontaneity: I ride in on chance, careen through dark streets of the unknown, and eat risk for breakfast. But what allows me this is that I strive to command all that I can reasonably control. And the rest? The rest is the best.